DOVER — Before a crowd of state dignitaries, higher education officials and corporate leadership, Delaware State University President Tony Allen stood in the middle of a baseball field and announced that the university was “on the move.”
“We’ve said it for some time now,” Allen told the crowd. “My friends, if you don’t know Delaware State, get to know us. Because we’re trying to do things that many others don’t do.”
The baseball field on the west end of DSU’s main campus is the future site of the university’s state-of-the-art $10 million agriculture science building, where officials broke ground Thursday afternoon. But to follow Allen’s words with example, DSU officials announced it had formed a new partnership with Agilent Technologies, a developer of equipment and software for laboratories across a variety of industries.
Agilent Technologies, which has a large Wilmington-area workforce, donated $4.5 million to the state’s lone HBCU, including $1 million in scholarship funds to support 21 students working on STEM degrees. The remaining $3.5 million donation is in analytical instruments, such as measuring water contamination and more.
But the partnership does not stop at a dollar donation. Gregory MacKenney, the vice president of Agilent’s instrument supplies business, emphasized that the life sciences company is looking to establish a mentorship and internship program, as well as giving classroom talks.
“The challenge, particularly in STEM fields, is representation of minorities. We’ve been very intentional in the last year in asking ourselves how we can improve our talent pipeline in respect to diversity,” MacKenney told the Delaware Business Times. “It’s really about longevity and sustainability. Twenty years from now, the demographics will look so different, and you really have to plan to access the future labor force now.”
This is the second partnership with a major corporation that DSU has announced in the last year. In January, Capital One announced it would start an executive mentorship program with the DSU sophomore class to complement donating its former Riverfront office.
Cherese Winstead, the dean of DSU’s College of Agriculture, Science and Technology, stressed that very often college students do not have the chance to lay their hands on equipment that costs $500,000 per piece.
“Now they’re going to get that experience working with cutting-edge instrumentation, that’s unknown to not just HBCUs, but also larger institutions,” Winstead said. “It will really take us off in the race as a research institution.”
The future 15,000-square-foot DSU agriculture science building will feature a 124-seat auditorium that opens up into a demonstration kitchen, as well as a new Century maker-space classroom where students can develop their own unique agriculture and science-related innovations. The building will be built on the former Solider Field, as DSU has moved its baseball team to the DSU Downtown campus.
DSU received $1.2 million from the state as well as a $2 million grant to fund the construction. Construction will formally begin in 2023 with an opening date of 2024.
The future of farming looks dramatically different than it did a century ago, as farmers are relying on modern technology like drones, robotics, plant and data science. Earlier this year, DSU received $300,000 for its vertical farm project — where plants are grown in towers inside a trailer, with a computer monitoring the light, water and temperature.
Winstead said the project demonstrates how farming could happen in urban areas where fresh food may be scarce. DSU students have already sampled the lettuce grown in the pods.
“We’re training students who work in disciplines like chemistry, physics, agriculture to get a diverse perspective of global issues like food and water security and food deserts,” Winstead told DBT. “When you think about the future of the workforce, it will be in how to make sure we have enough food to feed our population while our agricultural land is decreasing.”
For Jalen Saunders, a sophomore at DSU from Prince George’s County, Md., there is a possible career path in chemistry as he continues his studies. Saunders is the first Agilent scholarship recipient, and he noted the struggles in balancing studies and paying for tuition are a little less worrisome now.
“Seeing a Black man like Greg as a representation of what people like us can do — really succeed in this field — that’s important because you don’t see that too often,” Sunders said. “I’m a kid from Maryland. I’m just glad I have somebody supporting me, somebody in my corner.”